Rat study sug­gests Al­ler­gan's failed an­ti­de­pres­sant ra­pastinel may work as opi­oid ad­dic­tion treat­ment

Last month, when Al­ler­gan’s $AGN once-tout­ed pipeline star ra­pastinel crashed and burned a slate of piv­otal de­pres­sion stud­ies, it looked like the ex­per­i­men­tal mod­u­la­tor of the NM­DA re­cep­tor would be shroud­ed in a cloak of in­vis­i­bil­i­ty — but re­searchers may have found a way to res­cue the ex­per­i­men­tal drug by re­pur­pos­ing it as a treat­ment for opi­oid de­pen­dence.

Ju­lia Fer­rante

In the Unit­ed States, the cri­sis of opi­oid abuse, mis­use and over­dose — from pre­scrip­tion painkillers, hero­in, and syn­thet­ic opi­oids such as fen­tanyl — has reached epi­dem­ic pro­por­tions, caus­ing 130 deaths every day, ac­cord­ing to NIH es­ti­mates. Once in with­draw­al, ad­dicts are left to cope with a myr­i­ad of symp­toms in­clud­ing anx­i­ety, ag­i­ta­tion, sleep prob­lems, mus­cle aches, run­ny nose, sweat­ing, nau­sea, vom­it­ing, di­ar­rhea and opi­oid crav­ings.

In or­der to man­age these of­ten de­bil­i­tat­ing symp­toms, with­draw­al is man­aged by sub­sti­tu­tion with a less pow­er­ful opi­oid, fol­lowed by grad­ual re­duc­tion or tran­si­tion to main­te­nance ther­a­py with FDA-ap­proved med­ica­tion-as­sist­ed treat­ment (MAT) drugs such as methadone, buprenor­phine or nal­trex­one, which can have un­pleas­ant and some­times dan­ger­ous side ef­fects and of­ten must be used for months to avoid re­lapse. Al­though the process of ta­per­ing opi­oid con­sump­tion and us­ing MAT to treat opi­oid ad­dic­tion is stan­dard-of-care, it sus­tains the brain changes that re­sult in ad­dic­tion in the first place, which can lead to re­lapse be­fore treat­ment is com­plet­ed, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers who eval­u­at­ed the use of ra­pastinel in opi­oid de­pen­dence.

The tri­al in rats test­ed the use of ra­pastinel ver­sus ke­t­a­mine — a com­mon­ly-used cat tran­quil­iz­er and par­ty drug known as Spe­cial K or Kit Kat — which has been pro­posed as an al­ter­na­tive, non-opi­oid treat­ment for opi­oid with­draw­al, but it has the po­ten­tial for abuse, in­duces a trance-like state and can cause hal­lu­ci­na­tions. In fact, J&J’s $JNJ ke­t­a­mine-based de­pres­sion drug Spra­va­to has al­ready won FDA ap­proval. Ra­pastinel binds to the same re­cep­tor as ke­t­a­mine but at a dif­fer­ent site, where it con­fers a milder ef­fect.

Cyn­thia Kuhn

The sci­en­tists first in­duced opi­oid de­pen­dence in male and fe­male ado­les­cent (be­tween 28 and 30 days old) Sprague-Daw­ley rats by in­ject­ing them with mor­phine in in­creas­ing dos­es twice a day for five days. On day six, rats were in­ject­ed with nalox­one and with­draw­al signs were quan­ti­fied. The rats were then giv­en ei­ther ke­t­a­mine in­jec­tions twice dai­ly (n=12), ra­pastinel in­jec­tions every oth­er day (n=14), or saline in­jec­tions (n=24). On day nine, when the rats were giv­en nalox­one to mea­sure with­draw­al signs, ra­pastinel-treat­ed rats ex­hib­it­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly few­er with­draw­al signs than those treat­ed with ke­t­a­mine.

The find­ings sug­gest that treat­ment with ra­pastinel in­duced safer with­draw­al, sans any se­ri­ous side ef­fects, dur­ing the crit­i­cal first days in the ef­fort to ab­stain from opi­oid use — and the sci­en­tists hy­poth­e­sized this would lead to a de­creased risk of opi­oid re­lapse.

“Ra­pastinel re­search for opi­oid de­pen­den­cy is cur­rent­ly on­ly be­ing done in ro­dents, but if the drug con­tin­ues to have suc­cess­ful tri­als, it may en­ter clin­i­cal tri­als for use in hu­mans,” said Ju­lia Fer­rante, an un­der­grad­u­ate at Vil­lano­va Uni­ver­si­ty who con­duct­ed the re­search with Cyn­thia Kuhn, pro­fes­sor of phar­ma­col­o­gy and can­cer bi­ol­o­gy at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty.

The re­searchers are look­ing to keep test­ing ra­pastinel to in­ves­ti­gate its ef­fect on the mol­e­c­u­lar lev­el and to check whether it can re­duce the risk of re­lapse. The drug has a long way to go be­fore it cross­es the fin­ish line, but if ap­proved it would like­ly be ad­min­is­tered in­tra­venous­ly, pos­si­bly in an out­pa­tient set­ting, Fer­rante added.

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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First place fin­ish: Eli Lil­ly just moved to fran­chise leader with their sec­ond mi­graine drug OK in 1 year

In a rare twist for Eli Lilly’s historically slow-moving R&D group, the pharma giant has seized bragging rights to a first-in-class new drug approval. And all signs point to an aggressive marketing followup as they look to outclass some major franchise rivals hobbled by internal dissension.

The FDA came through with an OK for lasmiditan on Friday evening, branding it as Reyvow and lining it up — once a substance classification comes through from the DEA — for a major market release. The oral drug binds to 5-HT1F receptors and is designed to stop an acute migraine after it starts. That makes it a complementary therapy to their CGRP drug Emgality, which has a statistically significant impact on preventing attacks.

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Allogene HQ Open House on September 17, 2019 in South San Francisco. (Jeff Rumans, Endpoints News)

The next 10 years: Where is biotech head­ed?

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in drug development. Timelines have shortened, particularly in oncology. Regulators have opened up. Investment has skyrocketed. China became a player. Biotechs have multiplied as gene and cell therapy has exploded — offering major new advances in the way diseases are treated, and sometimes cured.

So where are we headed from here? I journeyed out to San Francisco in September to discuss the answer to that question at Allogene’s open house. If the last 10 years have been an eye-opener, what does the next decade hold in store?

Patrick Mahaffy, Getty Images

Court green-lights Clo­vis case af­ter de­tail­ing ev­i­dence the board ‘ig­nored red flags’ on false safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Clovis investors have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running case against the board of directors, with a Delaware court making a rare finding that they had a strong enough case against the board to proceed with the action.

In a detailed ruling at the beginning of the month that’s been getting careful scrutiny at firms specializing in biotech and corporate governance, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the attorneys for the investors had made a careful case that the board — a collection of experts that includes high-profile biotech entrepreneurs, a Harvard professor and well-known investigator as well as Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy — repeatedly ignored obvious warnings that Mahaffy’s executive crew was touting inflated, unconfirmed data for their big drug Roci. Serious safety issues were also reportedly overlooked while the company continued a fundraising campaign that brought in more than a half-billion dollars. And that leaves the board open to claims related to their role in the fiasco.

The bottom line:

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Bill Gates backs Gink­go Biowork­s' $350M raise to fu­el the buzzy syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy 'rev­o­lu­tion'

If you want to understand Ginkgo Bioworks, the name should suffice: Bioworks, a spin off “ironworks,” that old industrial linchpin devoted to leveraging scale as a wellspring for vast new industries capable of remaking society. Ginkgo wants to be the ironworks for the revolution it’s heralded with as much fanfare as they can, playing off of one of the buzziest technologies in biotech.

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UCB bags a ri­val to Soliris in $2.1B buy­out deal — but will an in­creas­ing­ly vig­i­lant FTC sign off?

UCB is buying out Ra Pharma $RARX, announcing an acquisition deal that rings up at $48 a share, or $2.1 billion net of cash, and puts them toe-to-toe with Alexion on a clinical showdown.

Ra shares closed at $22.70 on Wednesday.

There’s a small pipeline in play at Ra, but UCB is going for the lead drug — a C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan in Phase III for myasthenia gravis (MG) looking to play rival to Alexion’s Soliris. Soliris has the market advantage, though, with a much earlier approval in MG in late 2017 that UCB feels confident in challenging.

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A new play­er is tak­ing the field in a push for a he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py, and it’s a big one

BioMarin, the execs at Spark (and buyer-to-be Roche) as well as the Sangamo/Pfizer team have a new rival striding onto the hemophilia block. And it’s a big one.

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Stuck with a PhI­II gene ther­a­py fail­ure at 96 weeks, Gen­Sight prefers the up­beat as­sess­ment

Two years after treatment, the best thing that GenSight Biologics $SIGHT can say about their gene therapy for vision-destroying cases of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is that it’s just a bit better than a placebo — just maybe because one treatment can cover both eyes.

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George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scangos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 million pennies short.

Scangos’ vaunted startup Vir Biotechnology raised $143 million in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 million. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 target.

Launched with backing from ARCH Venture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the infectious disease startup was one of a new wave of well-resourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough coffers to pursue a full R&D line rather than slowly build their case by picking off a single lead program.